Almsgiving for the Poor and Why Our Churches Should be Beautiful

By Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo

When Mary put an expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped it with her hair, Judas Iscariot pretentiously complained, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” (John 12:5).  The Gospel of St. John says Judas did not really have concern for the poor but was a thief and would steal money from the bag which was the common fund of the Apostles and Judas was the keeper of it.  He wanted the perfume sold so that he could help himself from the sale of it.

Judas’ question would be used by critics of the Catholic Church on why our Churches are expensively built and adorned and why not just use the money on helping the poor rather than make our Churches too beautifully ornamented.  The answer was made by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.  You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:7-8) Christ allowing Himself to be prepared for burial, is a sign that God is telling us that He should be given proper adoration, and one of that is by having our Churches made beautiful.  Even in the Old Testament, the temples were always the most expensive edifice even though majority of the people of Israel were poor, because as Bishop Barron would say, “Even the poor deserve a beautiful church.”  The Church is for everybody, poor and rich alike.  The Catholic faithful deserve a Church where it is conducive to pray and because we ought to give God the best place to stay.

Let’s turn our attention on the second part of our Lord’s reply to Judas when He said, “You will always have the poor among you…”  It’s an indication that part of the Church’s mission is not just to evangelize and spread the good news but to take care of the poor and afflicted persons of society.   Even at the early period of the Church, care for the poor was already done when the early Christians were donating money to the Apostles to be given to those in need.  “For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”  (Acts 4:34-35)

Almsgiving which is not limited to charitable works for the poor and suffering because almsgiving includes the other corporal works of mercy, nevertheless is still is one of the highest forms of acts of charity we can do to our neighbor.  In the book of Tobit in the Old Testament it is the most excellent offering to God.  “Do not turn your face away from the poor man, and the face of God will not be turned away from you.  If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have.  So, you will be laying treasure for yourself against the day of necessity.  For charity delivers from death and keeps you from entering the darkness: for all who practice it, charity is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High” (Tobit 4:7-11) Almsgiving is not limited to the wealthy people just because they have the money to share, but for every one of us, we need to give as St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta would often say “until it hurts (our pockets).”  Our Lord did not stop the poor widow from making an offering even though she was poor and, on the contrary, made her an example of being generous in almsgiving.  “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.” (Lk 12:43)

It is said that there are three kinds of givers: grudge givers, duty givers and love givers.  Grudge givers say, “I hate to give.”  Duty givers say, “I ought to give.”  And love givers say, “I want to give.”  Grudge givers give a certain amount but with resentment.  Duty givers give with a sense of obligation.  Love givers on the other hand, give freely with a heart motivated by love.

If we give with a sincere heart, it does not matter if the amount is small as long as we give it with a big heart.  If you have watched National Geographic’s “Aircraft Crash Investigation”, often times the cause of the crash is just a small part of the plane that was not fixed or placed properly.  Little things don’t necessarily mean less value than the bigger ones.  All gifts whether money, time, talent is never insignificant if it is given with love.   If we have a great love for God, we will be generous with our gifts much like the poor widow.  For we can give without loving but we cannot love without giving.